Creepy Medical Cannibalism In Europe’s Past

Res Obscura on a part of medical history which is not secret, yet never discussed, most likely because it is so gruesome:

What did the jars [in seventeenth and eighteenth century pharmacies] actually contain? Things found in herb teas sold today, like chamomile, fennel, licorice, and cardamom — alongside some utterly bizarre ones, like powdered crab’s eyes, Egyptian mummies, and human skull, or “cranium humanum.” I was struck by the degree to which they take for granted the consumption of human bodies as medicinal drugs.

Substances like human fat or powdered mummy were once so common that hundreds or perhaps even thousands of antique ceramic jars purpose-built to contain them still exist in antique shops, museums and private collections. This is no secret, but it remains more or less the domain of specialists in early modern history.

It was a relatively common sight in early modern France and Germany to witness relatives of sick people collecting blood from recently executed criminals to use in medical preparations:

For those who preferred their blood cooked, a 1679 recipe from a Franciscan apothecary describes how to make it into marmalade…[T]hese medicines may have been incidentally helpful—even though they worked by magical thinking, one more clumsy search for answers to the question of how to treat ailments at a time when even the circulation of blood was not yet understood. However, consuming human remains fit with the leading medical theories of the day. “It emerged from homeopathic ideas,” says Noble. “It’s ‘like cures like.’ So you eat ground-up skull for pains in the head.” Or drink blood for diseases of the blood.

Read the rest at Res Obscura

3 Comments on "Creepy Medical Cannibalism In Europe’s Past"

  1. Monkey See Monkey Do | Jan 4, 2013 at 11:52 am |

    Chinese penis is really good for panda flu.

  2. Kevin Leonard | Jan 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm |

    As a TCM herbalist, it is quite remarkablethe number of items in their Materia Medica that we would find revolting. At one point, there were over 5000 substances that had charted effects on the acupuncture meridian system. Tiger penis was only recently banned. Deer penis wine is still available. And I have no doubts that some of China’s elite frequently dine on the genitalia of Falun Gong practitioners.

    What is really remarkable, though, is how effective some of those revolting substances can be. Penis is not served in America (that I have seen, at least), but one of the most commonly prescribed “herbs” for menstrual difficulties is Wu Ling Zhi, which, when combined a couple of other herbs provides relief that many women swear by. Little do most of them know that that Wu Ling Zhi is flying squirrel feces.

    Human placenta is still fairly common. And available in the U.S. to qualified practitioners.

    If anyone is interested, I can order you a batch. It’s good for your yang.

  3. InfvoCuernos | Jan 4, 2013 at 9:33 pm |

    They didn’t even mention my favorite – Mellified Man, also one of the more imaginative ways to commit suicide.

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